Islamabad: The party of slain Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was set to meet Thursday to mull its choice for premier to lead what could be a hostile parliament for President Pervez Musharraf.
Pakistan People’s Party vice-president Makhdoom Amin Fahim is the frontrunner for the top spot after the PPP won the most seats in elections last month and formed a coalition with the movement of former premier Nawaz Sharif.
Musharraf, a bulwark in the US-led “war on terror”, saw his allies trounced in the polls on 18 February and will have to deal with a government that includes some of his most bitter opponents.
But with Washington pressing for stability in the nuclear-armed nation, the PPP-led coalition has not yet indicated whether it is ready for a full showdown with Musharraf, who seized power in a coup in 1999.
Bhutto’s widower and successor as party leader, Asif Ali Zardari, will “meet for consultation” with the PPP’s newly-elected MPs in Islamabad, party spokesman Farhatullah Babar told AFP.
A senior PPP official said the party’s choice of prime minister was the key issue on the agenda, and that there was a “likelihood” the nomination would be announced after Zardari had heard from lawmakers.
Zardari has said he is not standing for the position following his wife’s assassination at a political rally on 27 December. He is currently not eligible as he is not an MP, but could in theory stand in a by-election.
The experienced Fahim, who like Bhutto and Zardari hails from southern Sindh province, held a 45-minute meeting with Zardari on Wednesday, a close aide to Zardari told AFP, without giving details.
Another contender is Ahmed Mukhtar, an industrialist from Punjab province, the country’s most populous region, who defeated the chief of the pro-Musharraf party in the elections, party officials said.
Also in the running are Yousaf Raza Gilani, who served as parliamentary speaker for a time under Bhutto, and Shah Mehmood Qureshi, head of the PPP’s Punjab branch, they said.
The United States, which is Pakistan’s key financial and military backer, has appealed to the victorious opposition parties to work with Musharraf in the new parliament.
The coaliton needs only to bring on board a few more independent MPs to secure the two-thirds majority with which it could theoretically launch impeachment proceedings against Musharraf.
Sharif, the man ousted by Musharraf nearly nine years ago, and his Pakistan Muslim League-N party have been outspoken in their calls for him to quit.
But the PPP’s Fahim told CNN last month that there were no immediate plans for Musharraf’s removal, saying that the new government should “not rock the boat at this time”.
Zardari has received several visits from Western ambassadors since the election and has also avoided any outright commitment to removing the former general.
In a possible signal of rapprochement, an anti-graft court on Wednesday threw out five of seven corruption cases that were hanging over Bhutto’s widower from her two terms in power.
The ruling followed an amnesty granted to Bhutto and Zardari in October by Musharraf, which had paved the way for her return from exile amid talk of a Western-backed power-sharing arrangement between her and the president.